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Uchouten Kazoku – 03

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「薬師坊の奥座敷」 (Yakushibo no Oku Zashiki )
“Yakushibo’s Inner Parlor”

I think it’s testament to the brilliance of Uchouten Kazoku that three episodes in, it remains a spellbinding experience; and in fact, every episode has progressively gotten better since then. It’s easy for me to say that Uchouten Kazoku has by and large become my favorite show of the season, with a quality only matched by the amazing charm of Silver Spoon’s farm life.

When I considered this, it’s pretty funny that my favorite two shows of the season are slice-of-life; these are about as far placed as you’d get from the intellectually-driven narratives or the sublimely executed comedies that seem to have made up most of the better anime series in recent memory. It’s not to say they don’t have those elements; both have an appealingly quirky sense of humor to them (which I find charming as hell) and there’s an overarching character plotline focused on the protagonists of both shows. But in trying to place my fingers around what’s been making the show thus far, those aren’t the traits I’d single out as the definitive ones. I’m also loathe to say it’s the sum of its parts; though in the case of Uchouten Kazoku’s case, that certainly wouldn’t be a wrong statement to make. After all, the slice-of-life genre has such a vague interpretation that almost anything remotely mundane could easily be classified as one; and what makes a good slice-of-life is even murkier a topic to breach into.

I guess I’d call back that same reason I’ve been using (for the last time I swear) that similarly to Silver Spoon, there’s an incredible human quality to these shows, which has always been a huge differentiating factor to me. Trying to define this quality is the tricky bit; but at the core, it’s always been about having the show emotionally connect with the audience. Take this episode for example: the fantasy of the show is running at its highest since the premiere, with flying teahouses, fans that whip up the storms, Tanukis shapeshifting into mountains and a half-submerged European clock tower that feel more at home in a fantasy world; but however outlandish it gets, that human factor is always there for us to connect. It’s in the way dialogue unfolds, in the natural relationships of the characters, and it’s in that relaxed -almost ethereal- atmosphere that lulls us into Uchouten Kazoku world, and that’s what I believe has been making every episode so captivating for me. This what previous PA Works animes have always been trying to do (Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari being their most clear-cut attempts) and finally, I think they’ve managed to hit the right formula.

I’ve already professed my love for the Shimogamo family, the main propagator of the brilliance in this show thus far; they’re a group of characters with a tangible, relatable bond, but still remain very distinct characters. When Yaichiro comes to Yasaburou for in help in securing the “inner parlor”, the bad blood between them surfaces as Yasaburou demands a kowtow (as you should know in Asian cultures this traditionally is a very, very big deal) and Mother promptly knocks Yasaburou off his pedestal for going too far with family. We next find Yasaburou complaining to Yajirou about him being forced into the role, to which Yajirou plays the neutral man in the family. It’s all stuff everyone’s familiar with in the typical family dynamics, but also makes the Shimogamos that much easier to connect strongly with.

Then there’s also the dynamic between Yasaburou, Akadama and Benten, which remains as enthralling to watch as the family is; just like in episode 01, there’s a great chemistry between the Yasaburou and Akadama in their quirky student-master relationship. I’m finding a lot of gentle humor here in both character’s romantic fiaxation with Benten -where Akadama purportedly gave up everything of Tengu value to her- and to see them both banter off it. Akadama with his jii-san tsun was particularly charming to watch; as his visiting tengu friend steadily picks at his words, Akadama continuously adds to his absurd reasons for not returning to the mountains. It leads to a very interesting conversation between Yasaburou and the old Iwamayama tengu that brings out the layers in Uchouten Kazoku’s dialogue; the old tengu eventually piece together the story between the lines, much to Yasaburou’s chagrin.

While Benten remains the show’s enigma, watching her through Yasaburou’s lens never seems to get tiresome. The two share a most unusual relationship; Benten is purported to be involved in Tanuki hotpot boiling, which is a pretty sensitive topic to the Shimogamos (whether or not she’s involved with the death of Shimogamo papa remains to be seen) and she strikes fear into every Tanuki’s heart. Yet with Yasaburou she share an extremely playful, flirtatious relationship that’s completely at odds with their situations, where she even shares jokes about Tanuki boiling; not to mention of her acquaintances, Benten also seems pay particular heed to Yasaburou, teasing him about his request to borrow the inner parlor before she finally relents. It really makes one wonder what their fixation with each other is about; and in Yasaburou’s case, I’m suspecting it could be her way of life. As we see in this episode in the clocktower scene, Benten is the very definition of a free spirit; what else would you call someone who jumps into the water buck-naked to pull on a whale’s tail? In the middle of a storm she whipped up herself? Based on how much we see Yasaburou champion his everyday life, there’s seems to be admiration for Benten in there, admiration that translates into his romantic fixation with her. And still we’re no closer to figuring out Benten, except that she really does seems like a good person at heart -she did lend them that inner parlor, after all- and the mystery surrounding her is just misdirection; you can color me surprised if she actually did deliberately play a part in orchestrating Shimogamo papa’s death.

At this point, we’ll have to see if Uchouten Kazoku can really go the mile; these first three episode really was really about setting the mood, introducing the world, and getting that human quality of the show in there; we’ve yet to see what might happen once the drama sets in and answers are revealed. But it stands that this first 3 episodes really was a captivating experience, and I really do hope that it can bring that quality across its run.

Author’s Note

-For those of you following my Danganronpa and Gatchaman coverage, some word on the delay. I’ve been packing and flying over the past weekend, and only just found time to settle down to get this post out ASAP. (So please forgive the half-assed grammar) As for Danganronpa 03 and Gatchaman 02, I’ll be grouping them with this week’s episodes and make double posts for both shows later in the week.

-Finally, Zanibas is coming back! And perfect timing to save me, I think I’ve exhausted what little I could think of saying already, if you didn’t already figure that out. (How many times did I repeat “human quality” again?) Still, thanks for putting up with my random ramblings these few weeks!

Full-length images: 05, 25.

 

Preview

Uchouten Kazoku   03   Preview 01 Uchouten Kazoku   03   Preview 02 Uchouten Kazoku   03   Preview 03
July 23, 2013 at 4:07 pm
20 comments »
  • July 23, 2013 at 4:21 pminfinite

    Thanks for the post.

  • July 23, 2013 at 4:35 pmSheapy

    IMO Benten is the selling point of this anime after watching 3 episodes. She has an enticing mystique that not many other female leads personas have.

    • July 24, 2013 at 10:37 pmBaKaYaRou

      Although I’m agreeing with your post, I’m also disagreeing at the same time, I think that the selling point of this anime are…

      1st it is made by P.A Works who’s currently known for being on par with KyoAni
      2nd is the gorgeous visuals and background it emitting
      3rd is the characters and how they interact with each other that even the minor characters are also interesting.

      Don’t know but that’s just my opinion.

  • July 23, 2013 at 4:36 pmAzuma

    When Benten said she wanted to try pulling a whale’s tail, I didn’t think she meant it quite this literally.

    Gotta hand it to mom, setting her kid(s) straight. She needs more screen time, preferably rapid switching between Prince and mom.

    On another note, I can’t help but think of the Ben10 and chuckle every time Benten-sama is mentioned. I swear there needs to be some cross over fan art of that :P

  • July 23, 2013 at 4:39 pmHogart

    That tune they play to cap each episode just before the ED sure is lovely. I also like how they’ve successfully managed to make “cute” characters also interesting (Yashiro’s childish mannerisms are adorable).

  • July 23, 2013 at 5:42 pmlivid

    Great show! Definitely one of the best shows this season.
    Although it does feel like this is a season 2 or something… A lot of stuff we don’t know about, like what happened in the Demon King Cedar incident, or how Suzuki Satomi became Benten-sama (note how people add the -sama to her name/title, meaning she’s quite important in the magical world hierarchy).

    • July 26, 2013 at 7:44 pmsealouse

      I get the feeling that the flashbacks will continues and possibly become longer.

  • July 23, 2013 at 6:14 pmstarss

    I think I mentioned this before only worded differently: this is really a slice-of-life anime rather than a fantasy anime. It only SO HAPPENS to have fantasy elements in it about a rundown family, because everyone in this world treats the fantastical as mundane. Nothing phases them. Maybe it’s one reason why I find myself zoned out now and then. Even on this episode, I got that they tried to get an old family parade device for the annual celebration, but I was totally lost on the details. … despite all that, I still watch it.

  • July 23, 2013 at 6:24 pmB.I.T.W.

    yea only few reason why am i watch this now cause mam noto’s ben10 really show stealer & need her own spinoff series.

  • July 23, 2013 at 6:49 pmBear

    Actually, I do think Benten was in an alternate dimension/world at the clock tower (they were in the middle of the city when they entered the fan store). There are some interesting quirks in this world. A powerful Tanuki can turn into a mountain, but winds up in a hot pot eaten by humans? Flying ships and inner parlors (that runs on brandy?!) that are unseen by humans? Of course we know little of the Friday Fellows and Benten’s relation to them Maybe there is more to them than we know. And then there is her relationship with the tengu. How did that happen? This almost has a Harry Potter feel to it, with the unseen magical world coexisting with the “muggles”. Oh, and I really liked the old tengu. Hope he shows up more. I’m also banking on this having some sort of plot that is going to start to reveal itself. It’s ok if it doesn’t but the richness of this world just begs for something to happen.

  • July 24, 2013 at 3:00 amAnanas

    I want a tanuki otouto.

    Best episode of the season so far. Hopefully the next one will even top that.

  • July 24, 2013 at 3:14 pmagr0n

    It’s been awhile since I’ve had a crush on an anime girl, but Benten has definitely earned that from me.

  • July 24, 2013 at 5:20 pmBeedle

    I wonder if Benten became the way she is because of Akadama-sensei, who spoiled her with presents– teaching her how to fly, the inner parlor, and the storm-bringing fan. Whatever the case, I can’t help but be mesmerized and wary whenever Benten’s on screen, and I feel that’s really what the studio wants viewers to feel, so kudos to them.

    Next, we have tanuki-papa. This episode shows exactly why he was a well-respected tanuki– he single-handedly owned those Tengu by transforming into a mountain! That he somehow got turned into a hotpot makes me scratch my head in confusion, but I suspect it has something to do with his tanuki blood– blood that Yasaburo and Yajiro seems to be trying to escape. While they may fail as tanukis, at least their pride won’t turn them into Friday’s dinner.

  • July 24, 2013 at 8:08 pmKanon

    There’s really something magical and splendid about the way Uchouten continues to carry itself and introduce us to this world and the characters within it.

  • July 25, 2013 at 12:23 amronbb

    First of all, thanks Asobi for covering this wonderful show, and don’t worry about repeating “human quality”. It’s indeed the human quality of the show that makes it stand out and feel so relatable — even though it’s a story mostly about the tanukis. This show is so well-written, and you can so totally see it in the dialogue — it feels so natural and relatable like real people talking. I think the best part is, like you said, how well the show conveys the feelings and the deep bonds of the characters in just three episodes — it’s all in the dialogue and actions of the characters, making it so natural and easy to connect with emotionally. Yes, having some sort of a plot may make this already interesting slice-of-life story even more interesting, but as long as the show keeps focusing on the characters and their intertwining relationships, I am all happy. At the end of the day, it’s about the lives of the characters, and their lives go on even when the show ends.

    This week’s episode makes me adore mama tanuki even more — she really acts like a real mom who exercises her supreme power when needed. Otouto Yashirou is so cute as well.

  • July 25, 2013 at 8:05 amstaticphrase

    This is hands down the anime of the season at the moment, but it’s a shame that no one’s watching it and it’ll just end up being regarded a sleeper hit when no other show is approaching Uchouten in quality.
    Thank you for the coverage, though! This show really is something magical.

  • July 25, 2013 at 1:08 pmErinTevra

    benten is pure class…

    so i herd flying benten, giant maneki-nekos, and tanuki moutain aren’t cray-cray enough for ya…next ep will feature airship battles…LOL

  • July 26, 2013 at 7:41 pmsealouse

    Personally I hope they clear up Benten’s involvement with the hot pot incident sooner than later. I want to like this character, but if she really was involved then how am I supposed to like her? If she killed their father… I don’t know how Tanuki’s are supposed to deal with vengeance and/or grudges, but I’m not a Tanuki and I want to see some justice :/

    • July 26, 2013 at 7:43 pmsealouse

      And it also doesn’t help how they keep mentioning his death and shoving it down our throats like that.

  • July 28, 2013 at 8:54 amjunglepenguin

    3 episodes in and I’ve finally found a word that describes this series for me thus far: Dazzling.

    I don’t have a clue what Uchouten Kazoku is about, but I’m nonetheless utterly bewitched.